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Employee Experience

Alexion Pharmaceuticals’ HR Chief: How to step out of the HR box

In this installment of our Employee Experience Visionaries series, hear from Anne-Marie Law, Chief Human Experience Officer at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, about:

  • How creating chaos will liberate the future generations of employees.
  • How to design HR systems that talk to each other – and put employees first.
  • Her tips for overcoming the invisible confines of working in HR.

On her passion for having an impact

“We’re disrupting dated systems that aren’t working for our people today, but we also hope other organizations will be inspired to follow our lead.”

Delivering the best experience for both employees and patients is what drives me. By working to improve broken experiences, I hope to make a positive impact on the lives of their families and loved ones, too.

It all starts with liberating our employees from old systems. As an example, let’s take the pay leveling system. This hierarchical system was built to tell you how to pay people, but it uses several false assumptions. People closest to the customer are at the bottom of that hierarchy. Yet, those employees are on the front lines generating interest in our products and helping people deliver them. We need a completely different approach to rewarding. Doing so creates more chaos than order, but that chaos is precisely what’s needed to change hierarchical systems that aren't working for us anymore.

On the biggest obstacle she faced in her role

“People only wanted me to speak up when my topic was on the agenda, not when I had a point of view.”

It’s difficult to be pigeon-holed as an HR person. When I started my career, I knew I wanted to focus on helping organizations deliver impactful programs and initiatives – and I found my means of doing that within the function of HR. But I’ve always felt that my role is to impact the business, not just HR. Others’ perception of my function became limiting, as I was only expected to contribute when something HR-related was being discussed.

Once I started building a network outside of HR, I was able to break down the walls others had built around me – and people saw I was capable of much more than the responsibilities assigned to me.

On embracing people data

At Alexion, we had been disproportionately focused on understanding our customers, not our employees. So, some of the challenges we’re experiencing right now are around gathering people data and data governance.

On the flip side, just starting to look at our people data presents a tremendous opportunity for us. We’re taking a closer look at the tenure of employees and the trends at different stages. For example, we’re now able to measure the ebbs and flows of employee optimism. Data helps us to ask more pointed questions and dig into the ‘why’ behind these trends.

We don’t know enough about how people evolve throughout their career at Alexion. Our data is able to tell us a person’s tenure in a position, however, we know career growth is not always tied to a promotion or title change. We’re missing opportunities to celebrate that growth, so this will be one avenue I continue exploring as our data grows more robust.

On being seen in totality at work

“In seeing me as a whole person, my leader expects much more of me than the others who had put me in a box.”

My current leader has transformed my employee experience. For the first time in my career, I feel a sense of belonging. He sees me not in my parts – not my gender or ethnicity or experience – but in totality. In seeing what I’m capable of, he expects me to go beyond what I’ve done before. It’s both scary and liberating. Best of all, he’s inspired me to create an environment for others to feel like they can not only be themselves, but reach their full potential, as well.

On what she talks about with other HR leaders

Organizations are naturally resistant to change and when left to their own devices, employees will divert back to what they’re used to. When I speak with my colleagues in HR, I’m keenly interested in hearing how they keep the focus on new programs and policies. I’ve found that because being a CXO – especially one overseeing EX and CX – is still fairly new, not many of my peers (myself included) have the answer yet. Time will tell what it will take to keep that energy alive.

On what HR leaders get wrong

“When it comes to designing HR systems, we need to think about the whole experience from the employee’s perspective and optimize for what will make the full experience better – not just one small part.”

The whole HR experience is more important than its individual parts. Often, HR designs components of a system—and tries to make those components perfect – without thinking about the outcome or how the system will work with others. Because of this, HR is creating a bad employee experience.

Take the annual performance review process. The relative importance – and ROI – of a team spending hours optimizing the appraisal form is minimal. Instead, that time should be spent getting managers ready for productive conversations throughout the course of the year. That’s where the most impactful employee experience lies.

Want to learn more about HR's role in EX? Hear from the experts in our Employee Experience Visionaries series